Work this time took me to the other side of the world, to Chiang Mai in Thailand to be exact, and that was an unforgettable experience. This city really grew on me with the simplicity of its people, its village feel, its brown un-appetizing river, and its great food.
What struck me first about this city was how narrow its streets were and how quant its markets appeared. What I first felt was its thick humid air that made one’s clothes stick. The rain in this city pours heavily and unannounced, so the first order of business for me was to buy an umbrella.
Its night market is a haven of authenticity and a festival of bright colors on its own. Opening after six pm, it converts the streets of Chiang Mai Into a line-up of stalls that sell anything from t-shirts to key chains, to authentic herbs, fabrics, cushions, wind chimes, and cotton clothing.
One of this market’s streets was a home for artists creating hand paintings that are so beautiful that something in them makes you want just stop and stare.
Foot massages were on offer in front of live performances and interesting street food was also on display including crickets, worms, and other fired bugs. As adventurous as I am, I didn’t feel up to having insects for dinner nor having a foot massage that involved me putting my feet into a fish tank where the fish ate at one’s skin.
Photographers took pictures of tourists in national costumes and manicurists also offered to clean nails in the street. One skill you learn when shopping at the night market is the art of bargaining. No price is final and everything is open to negotiation.
One thing I loved was the livelihood of this place. It is a space bustling with activity, while offering something new to see each night and on every corner.
On a more pampering note, one can’t reach Thailand without having a Thai massage, so that was also something I tried on this trip. To me that experience wasn’t too soothing. The spa was nice but the massage was too brutal for my taste and at some points I felt it was bordering on the abuse. If you prefer soothing aromatic massages I wouldn’t recommend this type of massage for you, but if you want someone to really give you a hard core pick at your sore spots then the Thai massage would be to your liking. Still in need of a soothing experience, I tried the face massage the next day and that was more to my taste. Who wouldn’t like a scrub, a few creams, and a gentle massage on their face?
On the more touristy side, I visited the Doi Pui Mong Hill Tribe Village which was an hour away from the city. To get there, we had to drive up long wading roads that were lined with trees and heavenly views of the hills avoe and the city below. The streets got narrower as we drove up and the air got colder, but the view from above is so worth it. Part of me thought that this was one place where a person can escape reality and just relax for a week or two. The Doi Pui Hmong people are very friendly. They served us drinks and fresh fruits when we arrived and they allowed us to explore their market, their nursery, and their gardens. Their market was placed on two sides of steps leading upwards into the mountains. In these markets one would find food vendors and skilled artists selling handicrafts, as well as hemp clothing and beautiful embroidered fabrics.
On the way down from the village we stopped at the Doi Suthep Temple which is one of Chiang Mai’s most famous temples. The temple boasts stunning views of Chiang Mai City and the valley below and it is home to golden Buddhist shrines, It also contains an good relic of Buddha. To get there, some people climb the grand staircase with over 300 steps up, but I was too lazy I took the elevator and only opted for the steps on the way down. Although the temple is beautiful I found the whole experience a bit too touristy for my taste. Thousands of people were around the temple taking photos, and I wasn’t any different I was taking photos too. I just felt that this factor took away from the spirituality of the experience, but that’s only my opinion.
Thai food is a whole experience on its own. Being a foodie at heart, I enjoyed trying their dishes. I loved their spices; I loved the taste of coconut oil in the food, and the distinctive taste of tom yum. Its hot and sour flavors, with fragrant spices and herbs make it the perfect addition to any serving of shrimps, crabs, or even chicken. I also fell in love with the fresh coconut juice, and the great coconut pineapple fried rice, among many other things. I can tell you that Thai food is a gastronomic experience on its own, and one should not visit this city without trying it. One restaurant we ended up frequenting throughout the trip was the River Market restaurant, as it offered scenic views of the river, a cozy feel, soft lighting and a clean authentic Thai experience.
Finally, I also got my taste of wild life on this trip. I spent a few hours playing with elephants, and that in itself was an experience especially given that one smacked me on the head three times. However, the elephant park was fun. you get to see elephants bathing, eating, and living in their natural habitat.
Although I arrived to Chiang Mai for work and that too was a great success, I leave this city with fond memories, remembering a people who always smile at you even when they don’t understand what you are saying, who giggle at you even when they are telling you bad news, and rides in the TukTuk as well as beautiful scenery, great food, and a lot to see.